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Out of the shadows: Shadowboxer puts out producer Lee Daniels (Monster's Ball) in the director's chair.

Whenever producer Lee Daniels has a good idea, someone tries to talk him out of it. Nobody thought he should cast Halle Berry in the Oscar-winning Monster's Ball, the stark drama that marked Daniels's entry into film producing. "They said she was a Barbie doll actress," he says.

His dad said no when an 8-year-old Daniels came downstairs proudly wearing some high-heeled shoes. "My father could not handle it," says Daniels, who hints at some dark times growing up.

Someone probably said no when Daniels decided he wanted to direct his first movie, Shadowboxer, the story of two assassins who become entangled with a pregnant woman they were supposed to kill. And when Daniels decided to cast Cuba Gooding Jr. as one of those assassins (opposite Helen Mirren), the nays surely became deafening.

"People told me not to cast Cuba," admits Daniels, who got his start working in casting on music videos and Prince's Purple Rain, later moving into managing and then producing. "I worked really closely with him on his performance. He wants everyone to like him. We worked on him being very still, very self-contained. He worked very hard in this movie."

So did Daniels, 44. "I was raising money at night and shooting dung the day," he says. "We never had our budget nailed down."

But Daniels has no interest in dwelling on any obstacles he may have faced in Hollywood as an openly gay black man. He simply feels too blessed to complain. He's been in a relationship for many years and is raising two children with his partner in their homes in Philadelphia and New York City. "I can't believe I'm [HIV-]negative. That's part of why I turned my life over to God," says Daniels, who is spiritual but doesn't participate in any organized religion. "I had friends who were a lot less promiscuous than me, and they're gone. All my friends are gone."

Clearly, hard work and smarts have allowed Daniels to make opportunities for himself, and he's passing on that access to others, whether it's established actors like Berry or Gooding getting a meaty role or musicians like Sean Combs (he played the condemned man in Monster's Ball), Mos Def (who appeared in The Woodsman, which Daniels produced), or Lenny Kravitz, who will star in his next directorial effort. And eventually people stop saying no, especially when they hear that Daniels is casting Mariah Carey in the film Tennessee.

"She plays a woman who can't sing," notes Daniels, laughing. "She really wants to sing country music, but she's terrible. It's more of a family film. I wanted to make a movie I could take my kids to."

Giltz is a regular contributor to several periodicals, including the New York Post.
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Title Annotation:SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEW
Author:Giltz, Michael
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 23, 2006
Words:458
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